What I Did on My Summer Vacation

A Week in the Blue Ridge Mountains Was Just What I Needed

And, apparently, it was what a lot of other people from Sarasota needed, too.

By Cooper Levey-Baker August 24, 2021

In our limited series this week, Sarasota Magazine’s editors share the highlights of their summer vacations. Here’s where our editors went and what they did—from Michigan music festivals to New Hampshire mountain adventures to snorkeling in the Bahamas.

At certain times of the year, the small towns that dot the Blue Ridge Mountains in northern Georgia and western North Carolina can seem like Sarasota North.

In late July, my wife and two sons and I spent a week in Ellijay, Georgia, staying in a vacation rental owned by friends from Sarasota. Weeks before that, my brother-in-law and his family stayed in nearby Blue Ridge, Georgia, as did other friends over the summer. While we were there, when we went hiking, we encountered plenty of Southwest Floridians, including a man wearing a Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium T-shirt. And the day after we arrived, when my wife posted something about our trip on Instagram, we got a surprise text from close friends who were in the same town at the same time, just across the creek that runs next to the property where we were staying.

It makes sense. As my wife pointed out, north Georgia is home to what are probably the nearest genuine mountains to Sarasota, and come summertime in Florida, who isn't daydreaming about getting out of the heat and humidity?

Not that it wasn't hot in Georgia. As we climbed the 600 or so stairs that lead to the peak of Amicalola Falls State Park, sweat poured out of me just as if I was back home. But come evening time, as we settled in on a porch shaded by tall trees, the temperature would drop, the insects would begin to sing and life melted into pure sensation: the rustle of pages turning in my paperback, the smell of wet leaves, the soft give of twisting open a mint Oreo and the scratch of scraping out the insides with my teeth.

"The relaxing part of being on vacation isn't lying on the couch; it's listening to the quiet sounds of nature," my 6-year-old told us, unprompted.

The author and his kids enjoying the area's natural beauty.

The author and his kids enjoying the area's natural beauty.

Not all sensations were as tranquil. My boys' favorite discovery was the Tumbling Waters trail at nearby Carters Lake. The trail is brief—just a long shaded path that leads to a pedestrian bridge that spans a wide creek. Once you cross, you descend to the shore, where water rushes in a series of small waterfalls for about half a mile.

Even with a blaring sun hanging overhead, the water is cold enough to take your breath away, particularly if your kids challenge you to sit directly beneath an outcropping where a surge of water douses your whole body. I endured the frigid water for as long as I could (maybe 45 seconds), then my wife and kids and I climbed up the length of the falls, stepping carefully on rocks covered in thick grass that offered sturdy footholds until we reached a point at which we agreed that we had "conquered" the river. At the base of the falls, we ate turkey sandwiches and lounged on dusty rocks that grew warmer as the afternoon deepened. We enjoyed it so much, we went back two more times in the span of a few days.

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